We recently had a talk with Taavi Kuisma, the owner and proprietor of Finnish denim shop, Nordic Denim House. The online company prides itself in being “by denim freaks, for denim freaks” and specialises in high quality denim, mostly from Japan.
Taavi is also the founder of Northern Denim Co. With its altruistic twist, the profits from NDC’s first batch of jeans were donated to the victims of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
RD: Taavi, what is raw denim to you?
TK: Denim stays raw for a very short time under my ownership. I like soaked or once-washed denim for wearing purposes, but denim as a whole has grown to be more than just a hobby. To me, denim is a daily essential and a lifestyle.
RD: What’re you up to these days?
TK: Little bit of this and that. Focused on the Northern Denim Co. project which is taking up most of my time right now. Managing the NDH business as usual and doing strategic work with an agency in Malaysia. All of this alongside my PhD research. And, of course, most importantly I’ve been spending time with the family.
RD: And your family’s helping with the whole business thing. Your son Maxwell’s the star and poster boy for both NDH and NDC.
TK: Yeah, he’s the poster boy for pretty much everything I do right now. The muse and the inspiration to all of my projects. Family comes first but with so many projects it’s easy to lose focus. But my family’s keeping me focused on whatever it is that I’m doing.
RD: What about yourself? What made you decide to go into the denim business in the first place?
TK: I’ve always loved jeans. I mean, since my first pair of Levi’s…I guess it’s as simple as that. Denim is pretty much a timeless fabric, so once I got into the whole “premium denim” thing back in 2005-2006 I just felt like I wanted to make a business out of my hobby.
RD: Why did you choose the raw rather than the well-cooked version of denim?
TK: The thing with “raw” and unwashed denim is that it’s more personal. Every pair is individual with personal fading that reflects one’s lifestyle. Not that there is nothing wrong with “well-cooked” jeans, but they just tend to be less personal, if you know what I mean…
RD: Absolutely. Is the whole personalisation bit your favourite aspect of raw denim?
TK: Pretty much.
RD: Tell us a little about your journey to Japan and the rebirth of the old school denim.
TK: Personally, I got in touch with the Japanese denim scene back in 2005/2006. I actually found a pair of Japanese denim online…found it interesting and wanted to try a pair. I never looked back. I guess it was around 2005 when the vintage denim started to gain momentum in the fashion industry.
Many of the most popular of Japanese denim brands got started around half a decade ago as the international markets got curious about Japanese denim. I guess it was the entire aspect of hand made quality that got people talking. Not to mention vintage fashion becoming an in-thing.
For us it was a natural thing to get in touch with some of my favorite brands and discuss business back when we got started. Japanese denim or vintage denim altogether was such an untapped concept in Finland back then. Now it’s becoming more available, though there are still very few players in the market carrying authentic vintage denim.
RD: Looking back to the early 2000s, it seems that the whole raw denim industry has taken a big lurch forward. Why do think this is?
TK: I believe it’s a mix of few things. The whole novelty factor. The exclusiveness of Japanese denim and of course the fact that celebrities started to endorse the Japanese denim brands.
I still remember the chorus from the 2008 song “All I have in this World” from Rick Ross’ Trilla album which pretty much underlined the entire Japanese Denim phenomenon. “Japanese denim, money stuffed in em’..” etc. It was around the same time when a lot of the premium denim brands got shouts on the hip hop songs. Evisu, Red Monkey Jeans and The Year Of… to name a few.
The brands got momentum, but with the fame comes the problem with counterfeits which have also gotten quite common as the demand has increased. It’s a bit different from the traditional Japanese vintage denim brands. They are not really basking in the media limelight, but have gotten a very strong niche following. It’s awesome to have witnessed these brands grow to where they are today.
Documentaries on Japanese denim industry and word of mouth have carried these vintage denim brands for the past years and with the growth of digital & social media these brands are getting their voice out there.
Stay tuned for Part 2…